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Mariss Jansons. (1943-2019)

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« on: December 04, 2019, 01:51:55 pm »

Famed Conductor Mariss Jansons, 76, Has Died

One of classical music's most beloved conductors has died: Latvian-born Mariss Jansons, who was age 76 at his death on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Jansons had long had a heart condition, which first became known when he collapsed on the podium while conducting in Norway more than 20 years ago.

His death was initially reported by local media, followed by statements from several of the orchestras with whom he was closely associated, including Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw, the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Chorus in Germany, and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Jansons had a fascinating and often tragic personal story. His father, Arvids Jansons, was a notable conductor. His mother, Iraida, was an opera singer and Jewish; her father and brothers were killed by the Nazis. She gave birth to Mariss on Jan. 14, 1943, in secret in the Jewish ghetto in Riga, which was under German occupation during World War II. In later years, after Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union and incorporated into the USSR, Jansons' sister was deported to Siberia during Stalin's regime.
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At age 13, Jansons moved with his family from Riga to Leningrad, after his father was hired by Yevgeny Mravinsky as a conductor at the Leningrad Philharmonic, the orchestra now known as the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Young Mariss — who barely spoke any Russian at that point — found the move traumatic and threw himself into music; he studied violin, viola and piano before focusing on conducting. One of his mentors was Herbert von Karajan, whom he first met during a master class in 1968. Von Karajan invited Jansons to Berlin to study with him, but the Soviet authorities refused to grant the burgeoning young artist permission to leave the USSR. Soon, however, Jansons was sent abroad to study in Vienna; from there, Jansons called von Karajan, who promptly invited the young conductor to come work for him at the Salzburg Festival.

By 1972, Mravinsky had hired the younger Jansons as an associate conductor in Leningrad; Jansons eventually became a regular conductor of that orchestra. And Jansons broke out of the Soviet sphere into a truly global career: In 1979, he became music director of the Oslo Philharmonic in Norway; in 1992, he became principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra; and in 1997, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where he remained until 2004.

Throughout his performing life, Jansons was hailed not just for his incisive and evocative performances of sweeping orchestral works by Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Strauss, among other composers, but also for his warmheartedness toward his colleagues, and particularly among the orchestral musicians whom he led.

In November 2017, however, he created a furor when he told the Telegraph that female conductors were "not my cup of tea," prefacing his comment with an observation that "I understand the world has changed, and there is now no profession that can be confined to this or that gender. It's a question of what one is used to." Weeks later, he issued a public apology, saying in a statement: "I come from a generation in which the conducting profession was almost exclusively reserved to men. Even today, many more men than women pursue conducting professionally. But it was undiplomatic, unnecessary and counterproductive for me to point out that I'm not yet accustomed to seeing women on the conducting platform. Every one of my female colleagues and every young woman wishing to become a conductor can be assured of my support, for we all work in pursuit of a common goal: to excite people for the art form we love so dearly — music."

For more than 20 years before his death, Jansons had been frail because of a heart condition; in 1996, he had a heart attack and collapsed on the podium while conducting in Oslo, and then suffered another heart attack a few weeks later. (In a stunning parallel, his father, Arvids, had died on the podium while performing with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, England, in 1984.)

Rather than retiring, however, Jansons did his utmost to keep up a strenuous, globe-circling schedule — and the orchestras that adored working with him did their part not just to accommodate his cancellations and changes but to give him even more prominence.

In 2003, he was named chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with whom he won a Grammy in 2005 for their recording of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13. The following year, he became chief conductor of Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; it became one of the most rewarding collaborations of his career.
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« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2019, 11:41:27 pm »

I have to admit his recordings have almost entirely passed me by, - I just haven't heard much.  His early Tchaikovsky cycle received such raves, but I myself didn't find it anything special, which maybe caused some subsequent indifference.  What exactly was he known for after that early success?  I may honestly not have heard a single other recording, or possibly only a few Concerto performances with him accompanying that I couldn't now identify.
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2019, 06:20:58 pm »

I had no idea about his tragic Jewish background. I rate his Shostakovich symphonies box set very highly as well as his marvellous recording of Honegger's symphonies 2 and 3 'Liturgique'. A sad loss to classical music.
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« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2019, 02:41:43 pm »

 Mariss Jansons (1943 - 2019)
by Chris O'Reilly

Mariss Jansons

The Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons died at home in St Petersburg last night after a long struggle with a heart condition. He was 76.

Jansons was born in Riga in 1943, whilst his mother (the Jewish mezzo Iraida Jansons) was in hiding after her father and brother were murdered by the Nazis; when the family were reunited after World War Two he received his first violin lessons from his father Arvīds, a conductor who had worked as assistant to Yvgeny Mravinsky and Kurt Sanderling at the Leningrad Philharmonic and later became principal guest conductor of the Hallé. Mariss enrolled at the Leningrad Conservatoire in his early teens, studying piano and conducting, and subsequently trained in Austria with Hans Swarowsky and Herbert von Karajan (whose invitation to Jansons to work as his assistant the Berliner Philharmoniker was intercepted by Soviet authorities).

Following a stint as Associate Conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, Jansons became Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic in 1979, and remained in the position for over twenty years, eventually resigning after long-term friction regarding the poor acoustics of the Oslo Concert Hall. (Jansons would go on to campaign tirelessly for a new concert-hall in Munich during his tenure as Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, a post which he held from 2003 until his death). During his time in Oslo, he made a huge number of recordings with EMI and Chandos, including the complete Tchaikovsky and Brahms symphonies, and music by Bartók, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Wagner and Sibelius. (It was during a return to Riga with the orchestra that Jansons first came across a young trumpeter by the name of Andris Nelsons, who stepped in for a performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique at very short notice, and impressed the maestro so much that he became Jansons’s only private pupil).

Though Austro-German and Russian orchestral repertoire was the main focus of Jansons’s career, he also enjoyed considerable success in the opera-house, guesting regularly at Salzburg, the Dutch National Opera, and at home in Riga. In 1996, Jansons suffered a near-fatal heart attack whilst conducting a performance of La bohème in Oslo (twelve years after his father died on the podium with the Hallé in similar circumstances); he was subsequently fitted with a defibrillator and resumed a busy but carefully-paced career. The following year he was appointed musical director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and in 2002 he succeeded Riccardo Chailly as Chief Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; after taking up the BRSO job a year later, he stepped down from his position in Pittsburgh and divided his time between Amsterdam and Munich, recording extensively with both orchestras on their own labels. Highlights from his discography with the BRSO include a complete Beethoven cycle (interspersed with ‘reflections’ on each symphony by composers such as Jörg Widmann, Giya Kancheli and Raminta Šerkšnytė), a ‘superlative performance’ (Gramophone) of Rachmaninov’s The Bells which was nominated for a Grammy this year, and a hugely acclaimed recording of Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame which won the complete recording category at the International Opera Awards in 2017 and was nominated for the both BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone Awards.

Jansons had taken a break from conducting over the summer for health reasons, but had a busy schedule planned for 2020, including concerts with the violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who was among the many artists who paid tribute to him today on social media; he is survived by his wife Irina and his daughter Ilona (a repetiteur at the Mariinsky Theatre) from his previous marriage. His many awards and honours include the Bavarian Order of Merit, the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal in 2017, the Herbert von Karajan Prize at this year’s Salzburg Easter Festival, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Opus Klassik Awards this September.
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